Hildur Guðnadóttir's earliest memories are of the power of music. Born in Iceland into a family of musicians — her father is a clarinetist and composer, her mother is an opera singer — she reminisces, "I can't have been much older than two years old, and I remember one of the pieces that my dad was playing was 'The Flight of the Bumblebee.' And I remember asking him to play it again and again, because I really saw the bumblebee in the music."
"I just remember this feeling of, 'Wow, you can create the bumblebee with music. How amazing is that?' Do it again! Do it again," Guðnadóttir laughs. "That's the first time that I experienced how music can transport you into your imagination and it can create these images in your mind. The music can bring you there. It can bring you a bumblebee. I think that was my first drop of my interest in music and musical storytelling as a form."
Guðnadóttir began her own musical career at age five, when she first picked up the cello and, alongside her mother, performed her first professional gig at the age of 10. She classically trained as a cellist at the Reykjavik Music Academy, before studying composition at the Iceland Academy of the Arts and the Universität der Künste Berlin.
In 2020, Guðnadóttir became the third woman composer to win an Oscar for original music for her work on Joker. "Winning the Oscar definitely brought me to people's attention a bit more," she reflects. "Normally people don't really know so much about who a composer is!" Her latest compositions can be heard in Todd Field's TÁR and Sarah Polley's Women Talking.
Below, Guðnadóttir shares with A.frame five films that have most impacted her as a composer and lover of film in general.
Directed by: David Lynch | Music by: Angelo Badalamenti
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is the first film I remember seeing that just totally knocked me out of my seat. It really had a huge effect on me. And, for so many years, I couldn't stop thinking about, well, pretty much everything about the film. And the music was a huge part of that. I really love that score — the simplicity of it, and how it worked with the film, and what it did to the mood. Then, the costumes and production design and that. I just totally love that film.
Directed by: Alejandro G. Iñárritu | Music by: Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto
I'm maybe cheating a little bit, because I worked with Sakamoto on the score, and I really loved working with him on this music. He's incredibly open and inviting, so he was extremely open to everything I had to say, and was so respectful and so wonderful. And there's something really incredibly beautiful and sensitive about the way he moves when he is explaining music, which I thought was so inspiring, because the music was quite improvised. So, his sense of movement had a really big effect on how I played it, which was very interesting. I remember being really inspired by the way he moved during the session.
But what I always remember about that film is just the sound of when he goes into that horse. When he cuts open the horse and crawls into its belly to keep warm, the sound design for that scene was just so phenomenal. It really struck me very hard.
Directed by: Giuseppe Tornatore | Music by: Ennio Morricone
I saw it when I was very young, and I don't think I had actually seen that many movies at that point. I always remember the sense of melody in the score, and that's really stayed with me for a long time. I haven't seen this film much since I was a kid, and I still remember the melodies very vividly and feeling totally emotionally swept away by how the melodies were affecting me with the picture. Those melodies are so striking. I don't know what it is specifically about them, but they're so beautiful and they really just hit you in the heart.
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick | Music by: Aram Khachaturian, György Ligeti, Johann Strauss, and Richard Strauss
One of the classics. I think what really stayed with me for a long time about that film was how strong of a character Hal is in that film. Because, obviously, Hal is a red light and a voice, and it's one of the strongest characters I've ever seen. It's pretty magnificent to make such an incredibly strong character out of a red light. I think that shows Kubrick's unbelievable mastery of the form to be able to do that. And, of course, the actor [Douglas Rain], to give such a strong voice performance that he can completely sweep you away just with a voice and a light. I think that's pretty magnificent.
Directed by: Pete Docter | Music by: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross & Jon Batiste
I really enjoyed watching that with my son, and I really enjoyed how they talked about the beginning of life and the end of life and all these big questions that are really hard to grasp yourself, let alone how to share them with your child. They did that in such a beautiful way. And it's so wonderful when so-called children's films or animation film can really speak to these bigger questions in such a beautiful, and interesting, and innovative way, with and for children. I really appreciated that.
The score is wonderful, and I really resonated with the idea of being transported when you're playing music. You're moved to a different dimension. I can definitely relate to that.